A note about Las Vegas and gun violence: Our hearts at The HSUS are heavy in the wake of the unfathomable killing and wounding of more than 500 people in the nation’s biggest-ever mass shooting. This latest slaughter of our fellow citizens, enabled by a combination of a deranged person and the high-capacity weapons he turned on innocents, underscores the severity of the gun violence epidemic in our country. Your HSUS has been actively opposing in Congress the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, which was approved by a key committee just two weeks ago and is now ready for floor action in the full House of Representatives. The bill is a grab bag of extreme allowances for the gun and ammunition industry and the trophy hunting lobby. The bill has more than a half dozen despicable wildlife killing provisions, including one to allow trophy hunting of grizzly bears and wolves on millions of acres of National Park Service lands in Alaska. The measure also forbids the federal government from restricting poisonous lead ammunition. And it provides for the rollback of an 80-year-old law that restricts the sale of silencers. Silencers are a great tool for people who want to conceal their killing of people or animals. Maybe this incident, which every civilized person abhors, will prompt lawmakers to take a serious look at the entire series of shameful provisions in the bill and step back from the brink.
There is hardship and suffering in Puerto Rico, for people and animals. The HSUS and Humane Society International are responding to this crisis with vigor and seriousness. We’ve already delivered more than 25,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance, with the New York Times today noting that many of the supplies we’ve helped to provide are for people. For us, this is a natural instinct — we seek to alleviate suffering and to fight cruelty, and clearly people are suffering throughout Puerto Rico. And in practical terms, it is the people of Puerto Rico who are best suited to deliver food and care to animals in need in their homes and communities, and if those people cannot meet life’s necessities, then the animals around them will suffer extra hardships. The people of Puerto Rico are United States citizens, and this is a time of great need for them, and we as a nation must rally around them. I am committed, as president and CEO of The HSUS, to do our best to respond to the crisis and to offer robust assistance that meets the needs of the people and the animals.
For several days now, we’ve had a team on the ground in Vieques, where The HSUS had some time ago launched a humane management program for the island’s 2,000 or so free-roaming horses. This winter, we contracepted over 280 horses, as a means of limiting fertility on the small island, where the horses are cherished but where there is a very limited land area and forage for them. Our team on the ground has confirmed that some horses lost their lives, killed by storm surges or injury from debris, and a fair number of animals require medical attention. But the vast majority of the horses appear to have survived the storm. We are providing them with supplemental food because the trees have been stripped bare and forage and fresh water are scarce, and we’ll provide as much medical care as possible. Dr. Dickie Vest, an equine veterinarian from our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, is helping to lead the response there, with wildlife handling and response experts Dave Pauli and John Peaveler. With the help of local citizens, our team is also caring for dozens of dogs, cats, and other animals at a mobile clinic they established to provide ongoing medical assistance for owned animals that people are desperate to get care for.
On the main island, we have an assessment team, almost all Spanish speakers and veterinarians, who are pinpointing where additional resources are needed. We intend to work with as many shelters and rescues on the island as possible, and to transport their shelter animals from the island to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Shelter in Madison, New Jersey. St. Hubert’s is one of our top Emergency Placement Partners, and we’ll work with its staff members to ready the animals for distribution to other placement partners around the nation. We’ve already flown 200 animals to St. Hubert’s, and we expect to move as many animals as we can from shelters by aircraft.
We’ll also work diligently to help animals on the streets who are in distress, and to provide food and emergency care to them. Many of these Sato dogs, as they are known, are community animals, and with circumstances so disrupted and dire, their human support network is in tatters.
We are partnering with the Humane Society of Broward County and our own affiliate, the South Florida Wildlife Center, to operate an intake and distribution center in south Florida as a launching point for humanitarian and animal relief items directed to Puerto Rico. We’ll be working with our partners, including Wings of Rescue and GreaterGood.org, to deliver these supplies in the days and weeks ahead. We’ve had an amazing set of donors, including Whole Foods Market, WellPet, Petco, Halo, Rescue Bank, and others, that have stepped up with enormous amounts of supplies that we’ll continue to deliver to the islands.
We are quite sure we’ll find other crisis situations for animals and people on the ground, and we’ll do our best to respond to these circumstances, as possible. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has asked for our leadership in the identification and fulfillment of animal needs. That came about because of our deep ties on the island. For the last three years, we’ve been implementing our Humane Puerto Rico program, led by Humane State Senior Director Tara Loller and our Puerto Rico director Yolanda Alvarez. This program has been designed to lift the circumstances for animals and the people who care about them on the main island and also in Vieques, and we’re going to double down during this time of crisis for people and animals and support them in the trying times ahead in this battered region of the United States.
P.S. The Humane Society International team continues its lifesaving work in areas of Mexico hit by two earthquakes over the past few weeks. Our team, including veterinarians, has so far provided medical services to more than 3,500 injured animals, including cats and dogs, with 669 animals helped in Mexico City and the state of Puebla just over this past weekend.